November 1, 2012

An Exile in the Land of Mercy

In my opinion, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is the most frequently misquoted Bible verse ever. People love to spout, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” They think this is a comforting message, but how can a false promise be a kindness to anyone? It always upsets me to hear someone say this because it misrepresents the nature of God and deceives many. In the end, the sufferer will perceive God as a liar when the concept never originated in Him to begin with.

Observe a mother receiving news that her child has died, a prisoner of war being tortured, or a drug addict undergoing detox, and you will see someone enduring more than their human strength can bear. A circumstance which exceeds bear-ability is the definition of a crisis. Our world is full of them. Crises are often the tools God uses to draw us toward dependency on Him.

God’s Word does not place maximum load limitations on pain, grief, despair, or helplessness. However, God does promise that He will not allow more TEMPTATION than we can bear.

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Take notice of the word used to weigh your present degree of temptation. It says that you are not facing anything that is not “common”. Your case is not special, extreme, or excusable. You don’t get a free pass to sin just because temptation comes knocking. God doesn’t hinder the onslaught of temptation because He has a purpose buried in it.

God’s plan A: that you Resist sin.

James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him."

God wills to reward those who resist temptation with a crown of life. When I read “crown”, I think of “royalty” and when I read “life”, I think of “eternity”. This sounds to me like royalty for eternity in exchange for successfully weathering casual, ordinary, everyday temptations. God doesn’t stop temptation because it is part of His grand incentive package.

What about severe cases when our need outweighs our logic and our willpower underperforms? Sometimes we are just too weak and sin is just too accessible. The Creator is never at a loss for alternative strategies.

God’s plan B: that you Escape sin.

“... but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

In the sin arena, escaping is considered a success in God’s eyes. Sometimes it is the only lifeline we have left. Temptation is the ultimate 'fight or flight' scenario; fight if you can resist it, flee if you cannot.

Resisting temptation usually works for me. Dodging obvious traps is a no-brainer, but discipline in the presence of a good thing is hard for me.  I discovered personally that God is indeed faithful to provide an escape when the going gets tough.

In the past, I’ve learned that a good thing which is not a God thing is a bad thing. A love of sports, possessions, your job, physical fitness, anything can rival God’s place as your ultimate love. None of these things are bad in themselves, but try to surrender one at God’s command and you will see just who or what possesses top billing in your life. It is always an effort to keep that which you love from becoming an idol. God never blesses an idol.

Because I have learned this the hard way, recently when I caught myself indulging in a good thing as a precautionary measure I inquired of God, “Lord, this is a good thing, but is it a God thing? Do I have your blessing in this?”

He did not respond. I didn’t receive a green light to advance full steam ahead, nor did I receive a red light to stop. I had permission in the interim but the permission settled in my spirit with the caution of coasting through a yellow light.

Over time my blessing increased in significance and my priorities started shifting. I felt my good thing encroaching on God’s top billing. I persevered and continued to pray but God remained silent on the subject.

My prayers for discernment turned to cries for help, “Lord, can I please get a green light from you now? Your place on the throne of my heart is in jeopardy. I can’t do yellow! I don’t know how long I can balance this. Help me!”

My patience was waning, my resolve weakening. My good thing was still good, but the margin ahead of idol status was narrowing.

I was in the tide pool.

If you rush a baby to be born before it is fully mature because you love it so much that you just can’t wait to meet it, then you risk permanently damaging God’s fragile project. Likewise, an over-eager farmer who gleans his fields out of season will jeopardize the entire harvest. God knows when our flesh just can’t handle what is asked of it. Under such circumstances He may call for a time-out as a safeguard.

Because I never got a red light signal, I never saw the bailout coming. God reached in and pulled me from the current. When reality readjusted I discovered that my whole world had changed. My call for help had landed me an exile in the Land of Mercy.

I cried out, “Lord, I’m burning! Why have you sequestered me?”

My guardian replied, “I have sequestered you because you are burning.”

Just as babies need time in the womb and seeds need time in the earth, the tempted may need time in exile for safekeeping. God keeps His promise to deliver the tempted. Sometimes it looks like exile.  This too is a mercy.

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